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Voters' reactions mixed on raft of ballot initiatives

November 07, 2012|Michael J. Mishak
  • Attendees at a Los Angeles County Democratic Party post-election party at the Stadium Club at Dodger Stadium watch President Obama's victory speech.
Attendees at a Los Angeles County Democratic Party post-election party… (Michael Robinson Chavez…)

SACRAMENTO — Proposals to ease the state's three-strikes sentencing law and stiffen penalties for human trafficking -- part of a group of measures that would reshape the justice system -- held comfortable leads in voting returns early Wednesday.

A measure to abolish the death penalty was trailing badly, however, and Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to raise taxes and prevent deep cuts to public education was leading, though narrowly.

In other contests, voters were opposing an initiative to label genetically engineered foods and leaning against one to curb organized labor's clout in state politics.

Californians were rejecting by a wide margin a measure to raise income taxes to boost school spending, while favoring another to eliminate a corporate tax break to help balance Sacramento's books. Voters seemed opposed to efforts to retool the way California crafts budgets and change state law to create a new car insurance discount. A referendum that would uphold newly drawn state Senate districts appeared headed for victory.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, November 08, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Ballot measures: An article in the Nov. 7 Section A about the voting on statewide ballot propositions said that more than $500,000 was expected to have been spent in California in this election. The correct figure is $500 million.

More than $500,000 was expected to have been spent in California this election, most of it in initiative fights.

The election gave voters their first opportunity to weigh in on the death penalty since they reaffirmed capital punishment in 1978. Overturning one or both of the state's most iconic and controversial tough-on-crime sentencing laws would mark a significant reversal for Californians, who overwhelmingly approved the three-strikes law nearly two decades ago.

"This historic victory overturns the long-held conventional wisdom that it's impossible to fix our most extreme and unjust crime laws -- and hopefully inspires future efforts," said Dan Newman, a spokesman for the three-strikes measure, Proposition 36.

Brown had pitched Proposition 30, his $6 billion-a-year tax hike on sales and high-income earners as the linchpin of his plan to restore fiscal sanity to Sacramento -- the central promise of his gubernatorial campaign. He said he was confident his campaign had overcome his well-funded opposition.

The criminal justice measures were among the most controversial on the ballot.

Proponents of Proposition 34 created the measure to replace capital punishment with life in prison without parole, a change they said could save the state as much as $130 million a year by effectively eliminating capital trials, reducing appeals and cutting the cost of special housing. The measure would require convicted killers to work while in prison, direct their earnings to their victims and earmark $100 million for police to solve murders and rapes.

Opponents, primarily law enforcement and victims' groups, countered that any savings could be consumed by healthcare costs for lifetime inmates.

Backers of Proposition 36 urged Californians to change the three-strikes sentencing law so offenders whose third strikes were relatively minor, such as shoplifting or drug possession, could no longer be given 25 years to life in prison. Inmates doing that kind of time for non-serious offenses could ask for a sentence reduction.

Opponents noted that current law already allows prosecutors and judges to spare a third-striker the maximum sentence.

Backers of a third justice-related measure, Proposition 35, promoted increased punishment for sex trafficking of a minor, from a maximum eight-year sentence to up to life in prison. The proposal would also increase the fine, from a cap of $100,000 to a maximum of $1.5 million.

The governor had been flogging his tax measure, Proposition 30, for months. His plan included a quarter-cent state sales tax increase for four years, plus seven years of higher income taxes -- elevated one to three percentage points -- on those making more than $250,000 annually.

Opponents cast the measure as a Sacramento power grab, arguing in a multimillion-dollar ad campaign that Brown was misleading voters by saying all the new revenue would go to schools. In fact, some of it could be used for other government programs.

Millionaire civil-rights lawyer Molly Munger bankrolled Proposition 38, to increase income taxes for most Californians to raise funds primarily for schools and early childhood education. Tom Steyer, a Bay Area investor, funded Proposition 39, his bid to end a controversial corporate tax break and use the money -- about $1 billion a year -- to help balance the budget and pay for a new green-energy program.

The fight over union fundraising, Proposition 32, was the most expensive race on the ballot, drawing $64 million from organized labor alone and a torrent of television advertising.

Backers billed the measure as an even-handed effort to curb the influence of special interests that would bar unions and corporations from using payroll deductions to raise money for political campaigns. Opponents criticized the measure as a deceptive attempt to hobble organized labor, which depends on payroll deductions to raise funds.

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